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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 15, 22 April 2003

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team

EUROPEAN YOUTH PARLIAMENT STRUGGLES ITS WAY INTO BELARUS. Last weekend (19-20 April), the Belarusian group of the European Youth Parliament -- or EYP(BY) -- convened in Minsk to prepare for its final attempt to register as a legally constituted public youth organization. Belarusian law permits only three such attempts. The first two failed. Officially, the EYP(BY)'s applications were rejected on technical grounds -- the documents submitted allegedly did not comply with the regulations. In fact, the discrepancies were minor and could easily have been notified and corrected informally, had the Belarusian authorities so wished. In fact, however, they seem to have applied one set of criteria to the EYP(BY) and another to less controversial organizations.

Thus, to quote but one instance, both the EYP(BY) and Bel-Greenpeace applied to register their organizations at the same address - the International Sakharov Environmental University in Minsk. Bel-Greenpeace was registered without any problems at that stage; EYP(BY) was informed, however, that it could not use the address of an academic institution without the permission of the Ministry of Education. Moreover, the Ministry of Education delayed its decision on what should have been a minor routine matter for several weeks, by which time a new and more stringent law on the rental of state property (including use of address for registration) had come into force.

Other objections were equally pettifogging: There was much discussion about whether the words "European" and "parliament" could be used in the name of the group, although these have been used without objection in all other member countries and, of course, in the umbrella organization, European Youth Parliament (International).

This organization was founded in 1988 by Bettina Carr-Allinson, a Dutch woman living in England, and aims to encourage and train young people in their later teens in democratic, nonpolitical debate, team building, and networking in a "European dimension," by means of international conferences and meetings. It quickly built up an active membership in Western Europe and, slightly later, in the postcommunist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, but spread to the CIS only at the end of the 1990s. It currently has groups established in Ukraine and Georgia, while further groups are now being formed in Russia. None of these have encountered the type of problems which face the EYP(BY).

However, not all the problems are coming from above. According to EYP structure, each national group is autonomous and has its own national coordinator -- usually a secondary-school teacher or academic. So far, the EYP(BY) has been unable to find a national coordinator of its own. Uniquely, at present, this position is held by a person who is not a citizen of the country concerned -- Dr. Alan Flowers, a British academic. Flowers has been involved with Belarusian matters since 1992, both in the context of exchange programs with Kingston University and also as an organizer of visits of Belarusian theater groups and visual artists to the annual Edinburgh Festival. (Indeed, it was in the context of that festival that the idea of a Belarusian group of EYP first developed.) He is well-aware of the anomalies of his role; and insists that the EYP(BY) must, in the course of the next year, find a coordinator of their own.

According to Flowers, several individual local groups in Belarus are well-organized (particularly those in Brest, Homel, and Vitsebsk), with regular meetings of active membership of 10 to 30 people for English-language discussions and debates on matters of contemporary interest. However, there is relatively little cooperation or ongoing contact between the groups and Minsk. Hence, even the all-important meeting to elect a national board and approve the EYP(BY)'s statutes had been postponed from its original date in mid-March, owing to the tardiness of the Minsk students hosting it in making the necessary arrangements.

When the meeting did, finally, take place, it revealed just how much the work of EYP is needed in Belarus. Several participants showed a lack of understanding of the election procedures, and/or little ability to make an informed and independent selection. And, although the age range of EYP(BY) members is already higher than the Europe-wide average of 16-19, there was a tendency to support older, more "experienced" candidates, and little awareness of the organization's role in training younger members and bringing forward younger individuals with imagination and vision.

Such observations, of course, simply show how important EYP(BY) could be in training young Belarusians in the norms and procedures of contemporary Europe. This is well-appreciated by the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which since July 1999 has allotted funds to support young Belarusians attending EYP gatherings both within Belarus and abroad. (Since the money goes only to reimburse the expenses of individuals, it does not -- a Belarusian government official has confirmed -- contravene Presidential Directive 8 of 2001, which applies to foreign funding of organizations in Belarus).

Given the current political climate in Belarus, it is not, perhaps, surprising that the Belarusian authorities have shown themselves wary of registering EYP(BY). This caution, however, Flowers insists, is mistaken. EYP(BY), he stresses, is not a political nor "opposition" organization. Membership in EYP(BY) is open to young Belarusians of all views and outlooks. Moreover, the aim of EYP, he said, is precisely that proclaimed in official statements of Belarusian foreign policy -- namely, the furtherance of friendly relations with the people of all neighboring states.


OMBUDSWOMAN REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS. Ombudswoman Nina Karpachova on 18 April delivered an annual report to the Verkhovna Rada on the human rights situation in Ukraine, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Karpachova told lawmakers that the observance of human rights in the country is "far away" from international standards. According to Karpachova, after the post of ombudsman was established in 1998, she received complaints mostly from disabled persons, pensioners, and jobless people, while now she is more and more often addressed by journalists, law enforcers, and state clerks and officials. She said that, in general, some 50 percent of complaints pertain to violations of civil rights (primarily, the right to legal defense), while another 40 percent refer to violations of social and economic rights.

Karpachova revealed that in the past year, she has been addressed by 12,000 citizens who complained that police used torture against them. The most common examples of torture during interrogations in order to force suspects into pleading guilty, she said, were beatings, putting gas masks or plastic bags on the head to make people suffocate, applying electric shocks to the body, or hanging people by the handcuffed hands. She stressed that in many cases, the application of torture led to death, permanent disability, or health disorders. Last year, more than 1,000 police officers were fired because of "inclination to violence" -- application of force and torture to citizens.

Karpachova said that as of 1 January 2003, nearly 150,000 Ukrainians served their sentences in corrective-labor colonies, while more than 43,000 were under investigation in isolation wards. According to the ombudswoman, Ukraine is the world's leader as regards the number of suspects to whom pretrial detention is applied -- on average, 37 percent of suspects are arrested before trial.

Karpachova stressed that journalism in Ukraine continues to be one of the most dangerous professions. She recalled that 36 journalists have died violently in Ukraine since 1993, adding that Ukrainian journalists are killed more often that those in a zone of military conflict. According to the ombudswoman, beating and intimidating journalists, freezing the bank accounts of media outlets, confiscating newspapers and other publications right off the printing press have become common practice in Ukraine. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN NAVIES TO HOLD ANNUAL EXERCISES. The annual joint exercises of the Russian and Ukrainian navies, called "Waterway of Peace 2003," will begin on 22 April in the Crimea, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 April. During the two days of war games, marines from the two countries will practice landing a peacekeeping contingent and will stage a mock battle on land. The exercises, which have been held since 1997, will include 10 ships, 16 armored personnel carriers, one airplane, one helicopter, and 200 troops. They will be under the command of Vice Admiral Vladimir Masorin, commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. The exercises' chief of staff will be Vice Admiral Viktor Fomin, first deputy commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. SS

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CENSURES TURKMENISTAN. The UN High Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on 16 April expressing its concern about limitations and violations of human rights in Turkmenistan and calling on the UN secretary-general to raise the issue of Turkmenistan at the fall session of the UN General Assembly, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 April. The daily noted that the resolution mentioned a series of recent laws that the commission claims violate basic human rights, starting with the 2001 decree requiring that foreigners pay $50,000 in order to marry Turkmen citizens and ending with the restoration of the exit-visa regime in March 2003. The resolution also notes that the situation sharply deteriorated after the purported assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002 and calls for an immediate end to mass repressions, the extrajudicial harassment of opposition figures and their families, the fabrication of evidence against people suspected of involvement in the assassination attempt, and the use of torture by law enforcement officials, and demands that those responsible for violations of human rights be prosecuted. The resolution also censured Turkmenistan for its lack of cooperation with international organizations. "Vremya novostei" noted that the resolution was approved by 23 countries on the commission. Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia -- all of which are involved in gas deals with Turkmenistan -- joined 13 other countries in voting against, while 14 abstained. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SIGNS ANOTHER GAS CONTRACT. President Niyazov concluded a 10-year contract with the head of the Russian energy firm Itera, Igor Makarov, on 21 April to supply 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually, Central Asian News reported the following day. However, Turkmenistan lacks 500 billion cubic meters of the gas it needs in order to fulfill its contracts with Russia and Ukraine, the article notes. A proposed 25-year deal to supply Ukraine with Turkmen gas has not yet been signed. In order to provide the amounts required by 2007, the country will have to produce at least 115 billion-120 billion cubic meters annually. At present it produces 60 billion. This means that within four years Turkmenistan will have to double its gas production and, at the same time, greatly expand its pipeline system. BB

UKRAINIAN PREMIER BECOMES PARTY LEADER. A congress of the Party of Regions in Kyiv on 19 April elected Premier Viktor Yanukovych to succeed Chairman Volodymyr Semynozhenko, Interfax and UNIAN reported. First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov became head of the party's Political Council. Yanukovych told the congress that the party's immediate task is to help implement political reforms -- in particular, to introduce a bicameral parliament and a system of strictly proportional representation. After the congress, Yanukovych told journalists that the Party of Regions will seek to field a single presidential candidate in cooperation with other centrist parties. Some Ukrainian observers believe that, by accepting the party leadership, Yanukovych has positioned himself as a possible contender in next year's presidential ballot. JM

POLAND FINALIZES PURCHASE OF F-16 FIGHTERS. Poland and the United States signed a $3.5 billion contract on the supply of 48 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to the Polish Army in 2006-08, Polish media reported. "We can call this the contract of the century," said Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, one of the signatories on behalf of the Polish government. Under the contract, Poland will obtain 48 F16 CD Block 52+ jet fighters in 2006-08. The purchase will be directly financed by a U.S. government loan that Poland should repay in 2011-15. Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko estimates that the cost of servicing the $3.8 billion loan will not exceed $1.2 billion. Lockheed Martin and a number of other U.S. firms (including General Motors and Motorola) have committed themselves to more than $6 billion in direct and indirect offsets in Poland in 2003-13 through 43 offset projects involving the purchase of Polish commodities, direct investments into Polish production, and the transfer of U.S. technology (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 22 April 2002). JM

As the Russian consumer-credit market picks up, U.S.-based investment fund Delta Capital plans to open the country's first private credit bureau, reported on 16 April. With two draft bills to create a state-run credit bureau apparently lost in the legislative labyrinth, Delta Capital will try to show that the private sector can pick up the slack, matching its own 25,000-person database with the resources of several banks. Regional banks are also looking to create a clearinghouse of credit histories, "Kommersant" reported on 17 April. Vladimir Kievskii, vice president of the Association of Regional Banks of Russia, told the newspaper that the organization plans to register a credit bureau in the spring that will bring together 110 banks. An unwillingness to share information about creditworthy clients has hampered banks' previous efforts to pool their resources and form a workable credit bureau. DK